When the city becomes unbearable, escape to the sea
The syrupy air of summer in Tokyo; each year it sparks a citywide paroxysm of handkerchiefs frantically wiping down sweaty bodyparts. It can get quite disgusting.
When handkerchiefs (and other coolants like canned ice coffee or air conditioned trains) fail to ease the heat you know it’s time to escape the city.
Although Japan has some great destination beaches in Okinawa and Kyushu, making a shorter, easier day trip from Tokyo seems to be the most effective response to the heat. But you have to be careful, picking the right beach can be a treacherous task.
One newspaper printed an article earlier this year describing the beaches near Tokyo (specifically Enoshima) as “fetid” and unfortunately that description is often accurate; food wrappers, bottles and more abstract forms of pollution (visual and aural) are never far away from Tokyo’s easily accessible, and overcrowded, beaches.
However, there are some fine stretches of sand which Tokyoites can be proud of, situated within two hours of the city.
Recommended by the Emperor: Hayama’s Isshiki Beach
Hayama’s Imperial Villa, which faces out to Isshiki Beach, has been used by the Emperor since 1894 as a winter holiday house.
During the peak of summer this beach’s two crescents of sand (which are separated by a small grassy isthmus) are alive with people windsurfing, kayaking and swimming in the warm silty water or relaxing on the ash-colored sand.
Although it can get busy here (especially on weekends), Isshiki never loses it’s dignity like the other beaches further up the coast.
As is typical with most Tokyo beaches the government rents beach space out for vendors to erect makeshift wooden shacks housing bars, restaurants or shower units.
Operating for nearly 15 years the Blue Moon is the most well known of these shacks on Isshiki, holding concerts on weekend evenings.
How to get there: Take the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line to Zushi station and change onto a Keikyu Bus (located to the left outside the ticket gates) bound for Hayama Isshiki via Kaigan or Hayama) Fukushi Bunka Kaikan via Kaigan, get off at Isshiki Kaigan (Shiosai Koen-mae).
Acapulco’s Sister: Onjuku on the Boso Peninsula
In 1609 a Spanish Galleon was shipwrecked just out from Chiba en route to Acapulco; it’s 317 crew were rescued by the townspeople of what is now called Onjuku, leading to Acapulco becoming Onjuku’s sister city in 1928.
But even without the historical link with Mexico this is certainly the top contender as “Japan’s Acapulco.”
The resort town stretches out behind two kilometers of genuinely white sand — a rarity in these parts thanks to an abundance of iron sand in Chiba. Mild waves invoke hordes of surfers from Tokyo and young families feel safe thanks to the local surf lifesavers.
If you tire of cooling down in the blue water you can always heat up again by renting a bike and riding through town.
How to get there: Take the JR Sobu Line to Chiba and Change to JR Sotobo Line to Onjuku Station.
Seclusion and Clear Water: Araihama (Aburatsubo)
This small scalloped bay is concealed halfway down the Miura Peninsula, directly beneath a run down marine park.
Disembarking from the bus you follow a forest path down to the water, populated by native birds and crabs.
The grey sand of Araihama is usually comfortably filled with sunbathers and backed by diners at a few small restaurants. The water here is surprisingly clear (for Tokyo) and bordered by rocky outcrops.
This area is also home to the university of Tokyo’s Marine Biology research station, although they make it clear on their website that the marine life is not what it used to be.
Picturesque beaches like these are hidden all around this area but Araihama is the easiest to access and the friendliest.
How to get there: Take the Keihin-Kyuko Line to Misakiguchi station (the last stop). Take bus No. 4 to Aburatsubo (also the last stop). From here walk towards the end of the headland and take a left at the forest path before you reach Keikyo Abaratsubo Marine Park.
Warm Water and Coral: Uchiura Beach in Kominato
Uchiura Beach is the most easterly beach in a collection of small beaches that break up the coastline of Uchiura Bay, the innermost bay of Chiba’s Suruga Bay.
Uchiura beach draws couples and families to its picturesque 500 meter stretch of sand; the beach itself split in half by the Obizo River flowing from Mt Uchiura to the real attraction; the sea.
The water at Uchiura Beach is calm, extraordinarily clear, perfect for swimming and scientifically notable for hosting the warm Kuroshio Current which keeps the water temperate and has helped nurture one of the northernmost areas of coral in the world.
Half beach, half shantytown: Zushi
The most easily accessed beach on the western side of the Miura Peninsula is Zushi, and although it’s not as gregarious (i.e. dirty and overcrowded) as the beaches further up the coast it still has the charms of a stereotypical “Tokyo beach” — a long stretch of iron sand filled with makeshift shacks blasting dance music and imbibing sunburnt hordes.
Like many other accessible beaches during the peak of summer Zushi can seem like abject chaos, but the easy access is hard to ignore on those sundays after a long night out.
And If it all gets too much you can always wander off towards the Zushi township, exploring the small cafes and restaurants which pop up in the backstreets over the summer peak period.
How to get there: Take the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line to Zushi and walk towards the coast.